The Museum of Art rises majestically at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Like a walled fortress, the museum looks remote, aloof and somewhat impenetrable. Anyone who does penetrate one of its grand entrances -- and almost 500,000 people do every year -- will find a storehouse of artistic treasures and activities.
The museum contains 200 galleries and more than 500,000 works of art. Not only does it have famed collections of 20th-century art and medieval armor but also displays of Renaissance tapestries, Sevres porcelain, Chinese furniture and American art.
Surrounding and enhancing these exhibits and displays are films, lectures and musical performances.
"There are great experiences to be had in this museum," said Jean Sutherland Boggs, the museum's director. "Marvelous things. A variety of things that range from Van der Weyden's dramatic portrayal of the Crucifixion to something frivolous like our exhibit of children's clothing."
Talks and tours are free with admission ($2 for adults and $1 for children, students and senior citizens).
Boggs said she is disappointed more people don't visit the museum. She cites two problems, a lack of public transportation and the edifice itself.
"People look at the museum and tend to think of it as an external monument."
Boggs said she has made only a few changes since she became the museum's director two years ago. "It's been a period of consolidation and assessment. I've accomplished small things. I've tried to smooth things out administratively and have brought more planning to exhibitions. "You have to work within the perimeters of the museum itself. Certain things have developed historically and you must respect them."
The soft-spoken, gray-haired director came to Philadelphia from Harvard, where she was a professor of fine arts.
Across the country, people are visitng museums in increasing numbers. Last year, the Metropolitan Museum in New York drew 1 million visitors more than the Grand Canyon. More than 8 million Americans saw "The Treasures of Tutankhamen" during its two-year tour.
A museum must serve a wide variety of tastes and interests, she said, pointing to ethnic festivals built around Irish and Mexican art that she said have attracted people who have never before visited the museum.
Bringing more people into a museum can be counterproductive, if the experience turns out to be unenjoyable, according to Boggs. A visit to the museum, she feels, must be both educational and pleasurable.
Museum visits have, in recent years, consisted of more than viewing works of art. Museums have developed a whole range of entertainment and learning tools to accompany major exhibits.
"Museums have discovered that people like to have art placed in a broad context, a context that shows the relationship of a work of art with the time and place from which it comes," Boggs said.
When she discusses the museum's strengths, she points immediately to its collection of early 20th-century art. "Any museum putting on an exhibit of works by Duchamp has to borrow from us."
She also is proud of the museum's rug collection, its armor holdings, its collection of 16th-century French furniture and sculpture and its extraordinary period rooms that range from French salons to the reception hall of a Chinese emperor's chef eunuch.
Adding to these collections is difficult, she said. "Our acquisition fund is only $250,000 a year, far less than museums in Boston, Cleveland and New York."
Boggs is looking for new ways to add to the museum's collections by approaching foundations and trusts.
"We are constantly torn between increasing our acquisitions and spending money on operatons. The cost of keeping the museum open has increased dramatically in recent years. An important question for the future will be: Can society afford museums?"